Spending an hour with Tom Moses is almost like speaking with a human Rolodex — an extremely pleasant and high-spirited Rolodex at that. In an interview at his Keene workplace Wednesday, he seemed able to remember the name of every person and organization he’s ever encountered — an invaluable asset for someone who’s spent the past 50 years volunteering in career and technical education, connecting students with businesses for hands-on learning.
Seated at the end of a long conference table at Williams Construction Group’s office, he listed a slew of local businesses with ties to the Cheshire Career Center — restaurants, auto shops, Cheshire Medical Center. Williams Construction Group itself — of which Moses is president — was founded by Dave Williams, an alum of the center.
For five decades, Moses has been involved with the Cheshire Career Center, serving as chairman of the Regional Advisory Committee. In that time, he estimates he’s watched more than 40,000 students pass through its doors.
“When you talk to them, they have so much purpose. Their eyes sparkle, they want to tell you what they’ve been doing in the program … There’s just an excitement in talking to them,” Moses, 78, of Keene said. “That [brought] me back every year ... That just tickled the dickens out of me.”
The Cheshire Career Center at Keene High School offers career-oriented programs in fields like construction, manufacturing, cosmetology, health science and firefighting. In addition to Keene, the center serves students from Monadnock and Fall Mountain regional high schools.
Moses grew up in Glens Falls, N.Y. After a day of work at the local lumber company, his father, Abraham, would come home and read the local newspaper cover to cover. Moses’ mother, Sarah, worked her way through promotions at grocery stores, with her sharp instinct for management. Neither parent made it past the fifth grade, Moses said, but he remembers them as two of the most intelligent people he’s ever known.
“And I think that probably, unknowingly, propelled me to be involved with some of the things I got involved with,” he said.
Moses graduated from Saint Mary’s High School — where he met his wife, Marianne — in 1961. He took classes at Utica College of Syracuse University and the Mohawk Valley Technical Institute while participating in General Electric Manufacturing Training.
He then took a job with Glens Falls Insurance, but when the company was bought out, he was asked to move to New Jersey. He spent a month there to see if it was a good fit, and decided against it. (“I didn’t want anything to do with New Jersey — they didn’t get very much snow. I love the four seasons.”)
He moved to the Monadnock Region to work at National Grange Mutual Insurance in 1970 at what eventually became the company’s data center on West Street. All four of his children — Scott, Mike, Sara and Stephanie — attended Keene High. He saw how good the school had been for his kids, and wanted to give back in some way.
In the early 1970s, the concept of career and technical education was starting to gain steam in New Hampshire, but at the time there weren’t any career centers, Moses said.
When he heard Keene High School was looking for someone to help out with teaching a programming language to students, he was ready to step up. He gathered some other staff from National Grange and began teaching COBOL, a computer language often used in business.
Through that, he made connections with folks at Keene High and joined the conversations surrounding career and technical education. The vocational school was officially established for the 1974-75 school year, Moses said.
Langdon Reynolds, the first director of the vocational school, eventually asked Moses to chair the Regional Advisory Committee.
“He said, ‘It probably won’t last more than a year, two years’ ... That was 50 years ago,” Moses said, laughing.
The Regional Advisory Committee is made up of principals, guidance counselors, school board members, and business people, and provides career center staff with advice and counsel.
Moses said he’s enjoyed befriending business owners along the way. Leon Watkins, of Leon’s Auto Center in Keene, got involved with the program at Moses’ invitation.
“Tom had been a long-time friend of mine and customer. [The committee was] looking for new ideas to expand the facility. Tom asked me to join up,” Watkins said. “I helped out with setting up the shop [at the career center]. Being in the business, I had numerous kids, students coming in as trainees.”
He added that many of the students stayed on as employees after graduation, and he was especially proud to see former students go out and start their own businesses.
Watkins noted the importance of the programs for providing exposure to options besides going to college.
“There are still students that are not going to go into college. A lot of them can get a good start in a trade right there in those programs. It’s a very, very, very good thing to have.”
Earlier this year, Moses stepped down from his role as chair on the committee, saying that it’s time for some new ideas and fresh thinking.
But that’s not to say he’s not keeping busy.
He’ll continue working with the advisory committee while it searches for his replacement. Since 2001, he’s been involved in the N.H. Judicial Conduct Committee, which ensures judges meet established standards of conduct. And he is currently the chair of the residential ratepayers’ advisory board at the N.H. Department of Energy. He also recently completed a 12-year stint on the board of Keene Housing.
Moses says he’s in good company.
“In a small community like Keene we’ve got some boards, groups that do some wonderful things … [we’ve] got some incredibly unselfish people who are working on their behalf all the time,” he said. “And it makes me feel good to be a part of some of those things.”
Back in the conference room, Moses gestured toward the window.
“I love summertime because it stays light so long,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to spending some time outdoors with Tucker, his golden retriever — ”My very best friend in the world” — when he got home. Between his responsibilities at Williams Construction Group, board meetings for different committees and work with nonprofits, he said he likes hunting, fishing and spending time with his family. He enjoys keeping busy, he said.
“I’ve had a ball … I think it’s keeping me young.”
And as for what’s next?
“I don’t see myself stopping in the very near future, as long as people feel I can contribute.”